The Worlds of R. A. Hortz
Talk the Talk
Talk the Talk
By Kenneth Oppel
The Slang of 65 American Subcultures
By Luc Reid
Writer's Digest Books, 2006
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - Posted August 20, 2012
One of the keys to creating believable characters is to have them speak in a manner consistent with their personality. The dialog that you write for your characters can tell your readers a lot about them. For example, if you have a character say something like, "G'day, mate. Have a dekko at that sheila yabbering with that dill over there." might give your reader a fair idea that the speaker is from Australia. Or the line, "I'm going to play the back nine, then I'll meet you at the nineteenth hole for a quick drink." will be quickly identified as someone talking about a quick round of golf then a trip to the course club house for a drink. Adding slang terms to your dialog helps to give your characters depth and to set the setting for your story, it also embellishes your story as long as slang terms are not used to excess.
While most writers have a fairly wide 'slang' vocabulary, it is impossible to keep up with this quickly changing and diverse aspect of American culture. So what is a writer to do? One of the easiest means of acquiring a basic slang vocabulary is to use a slang dictionary, such as Partridge's Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English edited by Paul Beale or a slang thesaurus such as the Wordsworth Thesaurus of Slang. There are also numerous topic-specific reference guides on slang terms on the market, such as The Little Book of Golf Slang by Randy Voorhees or The Language of Nuclear War by Eric Semler, James Benjamin, and Adam Gross.
There are also several general reference guides on slang that are also available. One excellent general, brief reference guide on slang is Luc Reid's book, Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures. This handy guide contains more than 3,500 slang terms and is organized into 65 thematic sections covering the slang of such varied subcultures as Americans in Antarctica, Bodybuilders, Con Artists, Gardeners, Graffiti Writers, Prisoners, Prostitutes, Renaissance Fairegoers, Snowboarders, Surfers, UFO Believers, and many more. Each section begins with a brief overview of the subculture and its slang. Within each section, the entries are listed alphabetically. The main entry is listed in a bold, reddish brown font. The entry is followed (when applicable) with a list of synonyms, and then by a short definition of the main entry. When practical, the text also lists similar words that you may want to look at, and short sentences that show the main entry in use are also provided when necessary for clarity.
Excellent for what it is, this is not a comprehensive guidebook on slang. Such a book would be massive and costly! What this book does do is to present a wide range of slang terms specific to certain groups. It does not cover general/common slang terms, technical terms, nor does it contain slang terms used by one group to describe another group. One of the things that I really like about this book, in additional to all the slang terms, is that potentially derogatory terms are noted by a bold exclamation point. This can help writers from making an unintentional error.
For anyone looking for a general slang reference guide geared toward various American subcultures, Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures is an excellent starting point. Because this is not a comprehensive text, you may want to seek out a more detailed book down the road. In the meantime, however, this is a great starter book and an essential reference guide for new writers. It is also a fun book to read. You'll be amazed at the number of terms you've never heard before, and just how many terms you'll jot down for possible use in your next story...
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